Wonderland Greyhound Park shut down after 75 years on Thursday, a move that follows the end of live dog racing in Massachusetts and the apparent demise of a casino gambling bill that might have allowed the track to lure patrons with slot machines.
Wonderland said in a statement that it was suspending business operations immediately because it could no longer compete in a “drastically changed gaming market” that includes casinos and so-called racinos in neighboring states.
Since a voter-approved ban on greyhound racing took effect on Jan. 1, the track had remained open for simulcasting, in which patrons can place bets on races being run in other states.
Richard Dalton, president and CEO of Wonderland, said remaining employees were notified this week that they would lose their jobs.
“This is an emotional day for all of us, and the most difficult part of it is the hardworking people who have been given notice that they no longer have a job,” said Dalton, who added that many of the employees had worked at the track for decades.
Dalton’s statement made no specific reference to the casino impasse at the Statehouse. A bill approved by the Legislature last month would authorize three resort-style casinos in Massachusetts and slot machines at two of the state’s four racetracks.
Gov. Deval Patrick refused to sign the measure, saying the slots provision amounted to “no bid contracts” for the tracks, and instead asked lawmakers to strip out the racino measure. The Legislature ended its formal session for the year July 31, and leaders have not signaled plans to return to Beacon Hill to consider the amendment.
Patrick said Wonderland’s plight was brought on by more than the failure of the casino bill.
“Let’s be clear, the voters voted more than a year ago to end dog racing in Massachusetts,” he said. “And so it has been a concern of mine and others from the beginning how we make a way for those who are being displaced by that decision.”
Although the casino bill fell apart, Patrick and lawmakers rushed through a bill extending simulcasting at the tracks.
Wonderland and the Suffolk Downs horse racing track in Boston are both in the district of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who strongly backed slot machines at the tracks.
DeLeo faulted Patrick for contributing to the track’s demise and said, through a spokesman, that he would seek $2 million in work force retraining funds for track workers.
“A little more than two weeks ago, Speaker DeLeo warned that anything less than Gov. Patrick signing the compromise gaming bill … posed the risk that workers might be laid off,” DeLeo aide Seth Gitell said Thursday. “Now, regrettably, that warning has come to pass.”
Wonderland and Suffolk Downs agreed in 2008 to partner in a potential casino development, which included an option for the owners of Suffolk Downs to buy Wonderland and develop the property should a casino be authorized at Suffolk Downs.
The Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville said this month that it was laying off 30 percent of its work force because of a drop in revenue and the political stalemate over gambling.
The state’s only other greyhound racing track said it would remain open for simulcasting.
George Carney, owner of Raynham Park, said he still hopes lawmakers and Patrick eventually will reach an agreement that will benefit the track.
“We have worked tirelessly to maintain the 200-plus employees that remained here after the ban on dog racing went into effect and we will continue to do so,” Carney said in a statement Thursday.
Suffolk Downs also remains open but has announced that it will reduce its average daily purse distribution by 26 percent for the second half of its 2010 racing season, bringing the average daily purse level for the last 50 days of the season from $89,000 to $66,000.
“As economic and business conditions worsen, we are faced with difficult decisions as we strive to preserve our current work force,” Suffolk Downs Chairman Bill Mulrow said when he announced the reduction.
Mulrow said the track expects to operate at a deficit in 2010 and is looking at additional cost-saving measures.
Wonderland opened for dog racing in 1935.
“Until the early 1990s when the Connecticut casinos opened, Wonderland was considered the premier greyhound track in the world,” Dalton said.